Special MCN Profile:
Toby Norman, CEO, Simprints
In this special feature, we interview MCN alumnus Toby Norman. Toby is the CEO of Simprints, a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Fellow, and most recently named a 2017 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year at just 28 years old! Read on to learn more about Toby's work and drive.
1) Why have you committed your life to social impact?
Two reasons. First, the random lottery of birth gave me access to incredible privilege and opportunity. Purely by chance. Had I been born in a different part of the world to different circumstances, my access to health, education, work, and security right now would be fundamentally different. Not to mention my chance of surviving to this age at all. That’s the inequality and injustice that social impact careers can fight.
The second reason honestly is the people. Social impact work is hard. You often face huge obstacles with limited resources, and there are plenty of days where the frustration seems overwhelming. But I’m incredibly lucky to work with an amazing group of people. They are what keep me going, the reason I come to work every morning. In the uncertain early days when I was deciding between job offers at McKinsey & BCG versus continuing with this absurd start-up idea, it was thinking about my team that made that decision for me.
2) What concrete impact has Simprints had to date? What do you anticipate it accomplishing in the next five years?
At Simprints (www.simprints.com), we partner with leading nonprofits and governments to make sure their work is truly reaching the poorest of the poor. We leverage technology to help us do that, specifically using biometrics coupled with mobile health, education, or aid platforms. Our work means that a health worker in the poorest slum in Bangladesh can access a child’s vaccine records at the touch of a finger, or an aid worker can prove that emergency relief is reaching real beneficiaries. For example, our projects with BRAC in Bangladesh are right now reaching 22,000 mothers and children with better health services, or improving health surveillance for 50,000 patients with Possible and the Ministry of Health in Nepal. It’s been recognized by UNICEF + TechCrunch’s “Best Tech: Changing Children’s Lives for Good Award” and coverage in Bloomberg, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and the World Economic Forum. Our goal over the next five years is to radically disrupt the inaccurate way we currently track and deliver progress towards the SDGs, and instead build a world where every person—not guesswork—actually counts in the fight against poverty.
3) What did you do as an undergraduate to prepare for this work?
While studying biology and anthropology as an undergrad was useful, the real value of my time at Harvard was what I did outside of the classroom. Working with MCN was a huge part of that journey. I learned about the key challenges in global health & development, met students who shared my passion, and got inspired by leading thinkers in this field. Starting a student group that eventually became part of the MCN community also taught be a huge amount about leadership, a set of skills I use every day now as the CEO of a tech company. Through MCN, I learned the power of strategic networking - recognizing that organizations can share resources and skills to maximize their respective social impact. I’d strongly encourage students thinking about a career in this space to get engaged, and leverage what you learn through conversations, talks, and conferences to actually take action. You’ll screw up frequently—I did, and still do—but you’ll start learning the problem solving skills needed to take on these global challenges.
About Toby Norman:
Toby Norman is the CEO of Simprints, a nonprofit tech startup backed by USAID, DFID, and the Gates Foundation to develop low-cost mobile biometric scanners to improve patient identification in developing countries. A Round IV Saving Lives at Birth Winner and Business Weekly's 2015 Startup of the year, Simprints develops hardware and open-source software that integrates safe, simple identification into existing mobile tools. Our goal is to radically disrupt the inaccurate way we currently track and deliver progress towards the SDGs, and instead build a world where every person—not guesswork—actually counts in the fight against poverty.
Toby holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge on a Gates Scholarship and BA from Harvard. He has worked for nearly a decade with doctors and healthworkers across Africa, Asia, and Central America on initiatives to improve healthcare delivery through technology. In 2016 he was listed among the Forbes Europe 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs. He is a proud MCN alumnus.